When I look at this picture I feel a sense of being here, now. The past is behind, you can not see the future, you are simply right here, now.
There is no way to tell what it took to get here, and from here you could not see what was around the corner. I was simply here, now. The misshapen memories of injuries of a thousand yesterdays and the lure of any tomorrows were made powerless in the deep breath of the present.
No four kilometres is like any other four kilometres, and you don’t always know where you are going. You have to make decisions in the moment all day, every day, and keep moving even though your muscles ache and your back bows in submission to the endurance. Imagine what weft of extremes a day can weave through.
One morning we got up at 5am to leave Burgos, a grand, robust city that gave birth to the conquering military prowess of a man like El Cid, and The Burgos Laws, which first governed the Spanish treatment of Native Americans in 1512.
For five perfect minutes we sat on a cold, dewy bench under a street lamp, eating the best ham and cheese pasty we have ever tasted, piping hot, straight from the baker’s tray. Then we spent nearly three hours walking to get beyond the grip of the city, around the banks of overpasses, through tunnels of graffiti, under power lines, and along train tracks.
There is no way to understand how hard it is to walk out of a city until you have to do it. The energies of the infrastructure that fuels a city generates a foul gloom. We were in very bad moods, bickering, and struggling in a fetid air that surrounded us like a ground mist. We had to put cloth across our faces to breathe through the smell; because you cannot escape anything quickly when you are walking. I had a headache.
Then suddenly we moved past the adversity of tall towers carrying electricity overhead and the electrified tracks and cables encircling the city boundary, and crossed a low bridge over a shallow stream. A small patch of sunflowers greeted us, the track turned a soft white and our mood lifted. It was as though we had passed beyond an invisible urban dome.
This is where the magic really started to happen.
We were facing six days on the Meseta Central – a plateau in the heart of peninsular Spain. It’s a 240 kilometre walk across flat, dry, wheat fields interrupted by the occasional town. No shade, no breeze, just hot, arid and relentless horizons.
People talked about this stage for days before, many skip this part, most of the people we met so far were taking the train round it.
Its tough reputation is legendary, so hard I thought maybe I was being careless taking the boys into it. The night before, I was still debating whether we should do it, particularly when we found out there was no public transport out of the area for the next three days.
The boys said they were prepared for it, so we decided we would go…
The air is thick with heat and wheat dust, kicked up by the reaping, threshing, winnowing combine harvester rotors.
There was an endlessness about the horizon and an immediacy about the details at your feet; the walk seemed both relentless and ever-changing at once.
It is a remarkable feeling to face nothing.
The silence is a pressure at first.
But slowly the land and the heat won out against the noise, and we fell into a companionable silence. In that expanse of nothing every pulse of internal driving force was uninterrupted, a place of profound peace that allows you to narrow your life down to that heartbeat.
You begin to recognise habitual patterns of thinking, and this allows you to respond in new ways; in this relaxed state the mind is clear and you connect with a deeper sense of purpose and appreciation of all the small things which give life real meaning.
You walk in the heat for a long time, your mind is taken down the empty road ahead, your thoughts have the silence in which to be heard in, and they crowd your head. You can talk to distract yourself, but ultimately you walk alone with only your thoughts.
For hours … and then slowly you can even let your thoughts go silent … and a lasting peace is found inside.
You can feel your core growing stronger, and that makes you feel like you are carrying less emotional weight. After all the silly games are played and you walk into the end of the day, the dogs stop barking and chasing their tails and lie down, and the evening stretches and reaches down deep inside you to open a space in which you can hear the Earth whisper.
Whenever I remember that day I immediately feel that sense of being in the now; of the past being behind, you can not see the future, at this moment you are simply right here, now.